"Insanity is doing the exact... same fucking thing... over and over again expecting... shit to change... That. Is. Crazy." ~Vaas, insane antagonist
If you've watched or read any of the advertisements for Far Cry 3, then you likely remember this short quote used for comparison: "Like Skyrim with guns!" But let's be real here, people. That's Fallout 3. In fact, the better description would be "Like Fallout 3 but vice versa!" Okay, so maybe that wouldn't make for a great slogan, but that's the truth.
Instead of an open-world RPG with first-person shooter elements, Far Cry 3 is an open-world first-person shooter with RPG elements. Instead of complex NPC interaction with simple gunplay and stealth systems, it has simple NPC interaction with complex gunplay and stealth sytems. Instead of a world with few but narratively significant side quests, it has a world with numerous but narratively insignificant side quests.
Far Cry 3, first and foremost, is designed to be a playground for first-person shooter fans. This killing paradise is set in the fictional tropical archipelago of Rook Island, where every nook and cranny is filled to the brim with visually stunning flora and fauna and just as many animals and red-shirt pirates roaming the natural wonderland to be plucked from their digital existence. Best of all, this is a guilt-free zone: Nearly all of the pirates are immoral, semi-faceless pricks and nearly all of the predatory animals are dangerous killers who respawn anyway so there's no need to concern yourself about the fact that there are only about 3000 tigers left in the real world (you poacher, you).
As you might expect, the game's open-world design is at its best when you're unshackled by required objectives. Freely roaming about the mountainous slopes of Rook Island, diving into riverbeds, opening chests in dark corners, and exploring ancient ruins for relics, you will have plenty to keep yourself busy on that alone. Just open the map, pick a treasure or event, and fling yourself to the location by car, glider, or your own two feet. Along the way, you can collect leaves for crafting syringes and hunt animals for crafting equipment upgrades.
In between these bouts of exploration, your main objective is taking out every last pirate off your island. If you haven't unscrambled the map yet, it's a simple matter of getting to the rickety radio tower in the area, climbing to the top, flipping the switch, and ziplining down (shouting "Wee!" on the inside). It's much like the View Points in the Assassin's Creed series, which is no surprise since this game comes from the same developer. After repairing the radio tower, the next step is usually liberating any pirate outposts, which will stop pirates from spawning in the local area and will unlock various side quests for additional cash rewards. The outpost also becomes an stronghold for your allies as well as a fast travel waypoint for easy transporation throughout Rook Island.
Conquering outposts is by far the most satisfying experience in Far Cry 3. Tearing through like Rambo with grenades and a machine gun is but one legitimate way to overthrow an outpost, especially when stealthier approaches are rewarded with three times the experience points. So being ever the ninja, I usually tag enemies with a camera from a high perch which allows them to be identified and seen through walls. Then, crouching beneath the foliage, I snipe each foe in the head, waiting enough time between shots to remain undetected. Or I sneak up to the compound, throw rocks to lure guards out one by one, and stab each one in the throat.
On the downside, enemies sometimes have ridiculous vision and there's no way to drag bodies apart from a specific skill, which only allows you to drag an enemy right after he's killed. I'm also not sure why the button for looting bodies is the same one for taking a weapon off the ground. But despite these gripes, the gunplay is thrilling and challenging on any difficulty level.
Better yet, nearly every accomplishment is rewarded with cash for better weapons and attachments at a nearby store and experience points to earn skills from one of three tribal-inspired branches: Heron, Shark, and Spider. Skills improve your maximum health, sneaking ability, reload speed, and even takedown skills, where you can jam a machete in a pirate's neck and then use his knife as a projectile for another pirate's neck. That's just one of many moments that will make you feel like an unstoppable beast.
But the trouble with Far Cry 3 is that it mostly operates on the surface level, on that empowering sensation of being a badass and experiencing the oohs and aahs of exploration. This isn't to say that it's a lootfest or even that this aspect is a terrible thing (in fact, Borderlands 2 and Saints Row: The Third are among my favorites games), but that Far Cry 3 tries to be both fun and serious at the same time, which is a noble endeavor but fails in several regards.
The most pressing issue among these is the story, which I have purposely ignored up to this point. You're supposed to play as a stereotypical Californian teenager named Jason Brody who is incredibly extroverted and just one slanted word away from taking a whiff. Along with his friends and brothers, he decides to skydive above Rook Island (without Googling the place beforehand or else he would know how f***ed up it is) and everyone gets captured by the charismatically insane Vaas and his band of pirates. His Army-trained older brother, Grant, is able to free Jason from his cage but is ultimately murdered during the escape, forcing Jason to take his place as the older brother who must find and rescue his friends and younger brother.
The disconnect between Jason Brody and you, the player, becomes evident immediately. From the very start, Jason is timid about holding a gun because he's never held one and is genuinely averse to killing anyone to reach his goals. Then the next moment, you're nabbing headshots with a pistol, skinning bears, punching sharks in the face, and pumping bullets into enemies like it's going out of style. It's not until much later that Jason becomes one with his inner tribal warrior, but it's a surprise he doesn't feel that way after clearing half an island of pirates thanks to you. Sometimes you just want Jason to shut up and tell him, "Don't worry, dude, I've got this."
At the same time, the story missions stifle the freedom of the open world with restrictive objectives where you must use a specific gun, go to a specific perch, or follow a specific stealth method. Not always but much of the time, you're not allowed to think outside of the box or even leave the mission zone. Side quests must also be performed one at a time, when it would have been easy for them to have a freeform design.
Though the characters and NPCs are not deficient in personality, they are lacking in interactivity. The good news is that Vaas and a few of the major figures have superb voice-acting and memorable lines of dialogue during cut-scenes, but once you're outside of these scripted sequences, they usually don't have anything else to say. They act like static mannequins who dole out missions, which is a shame since their frequently twisted nature is begging to be examined and developed on a deeper level. The same goes for the drug sequences, which are amazing to look at and unquestionably stylish, but lack in emotional and lasting depth (which is kind of like a drug, when I think about it). Ultimately, it's difficult to care about Jason, the friends he's supposed to save, or the story in general when they're mainly vehicles for the gunplay and little else.
Compared to the game's living, breathing world for animals, where leopards and dingos chase down boars and other prey without needing any provocation, the world for NPCs is relatively vacant. All of the Rakyat warriors are expendable, repeat the same lines of dialogue, and often look exactly alike. Don't be surprised to sit down a poker table and find yourself betting against triplets who just happen to wear different clothing. Moreover, there are countless shacks that you think would be inhabited but are in fact empty.
There's an overaching sense of repetition (which Vaas would call insanity) that bleeds throughout the objectives. As enjoyable as it is to climb a radio tower, clear out the nearby outposts, and obtain all of the collectibles, these tasks are copied and pasted over about twenty areas. By the time you clear out the fourth squared-off area, the gameplay becomes predictable. And once you've cleared out all of the pirates from an area, the challenge drops significantly. Hopefully, the user-created map editor will help alleviate this.
The cooperative and multiplayer modes serve as solid distractions, both of which your online profile will share levels. The cooperative mode borrows the framework of Left 4 Dead, where up to four players act as one of four stereotypical characters (a Russian, a Scot, a old cop, and a strong black woman) and must eradicate pirates on their path to reclaiming money that was stolen from them. The multiplayer mode goes through the general motions of Team Deathmatch, Domination, and other match types, with the important caveat that reviving a friend cancels out a death, so sniping is less emphasized and working as a team is crucial. Both modes are worth playing for a while, but they're not the main attraction.
Playing Far Cry 3 in short bursts or actively distracting yourself with a mini-game will take your mind off its underdeveloped and restrictive story, but the tedium of its objectives still wears thin after a while. It's not a problem of "all style, no substance," but "all style, partial substance." That said, it's hard to deny its prowess for gunplay, exploration, and graphics, with the exception of minor pop-up issues and framerate drops. As long as you don't take the game as seriously as the game does, you'll be entertained. Just make sure you dismiss that Skyrim quote... as much as dragon-slaying would be just as awesome on Rook Island.
Copy provided by publisher. Review based on PS3 version.